Pour on the Conflict!

As we continue with our series about what I learned while writing my fantasy novel Dreamlander, I’d like to devote today’s post to the all-important subject of conflict. I love action stories, so most of my novels lean in that direction. Dreamlander is no different. It features large-scale Renaissance-esque battles among other things. But the truth is big battles barely scratch the surface of the conflict necessary to make a book work.

Let’s consider the different levels of conflict.

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1. First, we have world-ending conflict: e.g., evil aliens are about to bomb the living daylights out of humanity. That kind of thing.

2. Then we have large-scale human conflict, such as war.

And these big conflicts are all fine and good, because they create a framework of high stakes, as well as inherent settings of danger and tension. But these conflicts are never really what a story is about. Books that are about war become more about the event than the characters, which is fine if that’s what you’re wanting to do.

But most stories will find their power in something smaller and more intimate: and that is the conflict between characters. So we have several levels of this as well.

3. To begin with, we have the obvious conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist. But why stop there? Why not pour on the conflict?

4. Between the protagonist and the protagonist’s family.

5.The protagonist and the protagonist’s allies.

6. The antagonist and antagonist’s allies.

Conflict is what makes fiction run. More than that, it’s what makes fiction interesting. Keep the conflict pumping in every scene, and don’t forget to vary its intensity (because obviously you’re not going to want the conflict between the protagonist and her boyfriend to be at the same level as the aliens vs. the humans).

Conflict is what will keep your action popping and your readers hooked!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How many levels of conflict are present in your story? Tell me in the comments!


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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I generally only have the obvious conflict between the protagonist and antagonist.. though, at times, I love doing the “espionage”-ish type conflict among the protagonist’s allies.

  2. A little cloak-and-dagger tension rarely goes amiss.

  3. When you mention Dreamlander and conflict, I’ve got to tell you. Katie, you had me going from start to finish.
    I felt continuous seat of the pants tension. This book should be a joy to read by fans of any genre!

  4. That’s great to hear, Rich! My characters might not think it’s so great, but, hey, something’s gotta give. 😉

  5. Why is conflict so difficult sometimes, lol. Thanks for the reminder that it’s so necessary and offering an example I hadn’t thought about ( protag vs allies and ant vs allies).

  6. A good rule of thumb is to make certain that some form of conflict is present in every scene. You’ll never overdo it so long as each bit of conflict is purposeful and important to the story.

  7. This is great advice! I find that the more I write, the more new conflicts reveal themselves to me. You gave me a lot to think about, especially with #6. I think sometimes it’s easy to leave the antagonist out as anything but the antagonist, instead of utilizing the opportunity to add more depth by adding depth to the antagonist, as well. Thanks!

  8. Antagonists are tricky. So often we only stick them in as an evil figurehead for the main character to triumph over. But the more depth and nuance we can bring to the antagonist character, the more realistic and compelling he will become – and the better our story will be.

  9. I am a student, and I discovered your blog while working on a homework assignment for a web writing class. Over the years, I’ve written numerous vignettes that have just come to mind, or written down dreams I’ve had that sounded like good stories. After reading your article on character conflict and thinking back on my own writing, I realize that there has indeed been tension between the characters in each vignette.

    PS: I like the content and layout of your blog and look forward to future visits!

  10. Thanks for stopping by! Truthfully, it’s hard to write a story without at least some tension. Even the writer will get bored without it!

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